In 2010, the Cooper board of Trustees approved a new initiative: the Cooper Foundation Scholarships for Students of Color. Trustee John White, a former president of Nebraska Wesleyan University, was instrumental in designing the program to benefit students of color at six Nebraska private colleges and universities.
One student at each school receives $4,000 annually for four years if they remain in good academic standing and are on track to graduate. Special care is taken to identify students who demonstrate financial need but do not necessarily qualify for federal Pell Grants.
Of the first cadre of Cooper Scholars, Brenda Maldonado and Charlie Dawson were featured in the Cooper Report, Summer 2015. They told us how the Scholarships and their experiences at their respective universities prepared them for their educational and career accomplishments.
“My parents had always told us we would go to college no matter what. That was why they moved to the U.S., for our education. The scholarships that were available from Wesleyan were a big selling point; I was offered an amazing education with amazing financial support.”
Brenda is a first-generation immigrant, she and her brother were born in Cuauhtémoc Chihuahua in Mexico. Her father was a migrant worker to the United States, and when the U.S. offered an amnesty to those living in violent areas of his home country, he moved his family to Sargent, Nebraska. Brenda flourished in the small town and her teachers guided her through the college application process and encouraged her to dream big.
At Nebraska Wesleyan University, Brenda spent a year studying abroad in Switzerland, joined a sorority, and took jobs in several offices on campus, all while becoming fluent in a third language–French–and excelling academically. She graduated in 2015, with a Bachelor of Arts, French (political science focus).
“I currently work in International Development, advising on compliance regulations that apply to public and private funded initiatives across 8 different countries. This space requires professionals with intercultural skills, working proficiency in various foreign languages, and a broad understanding of geo-political relations, project management, diplomacy, and finance.
My extra-curricular activities across student-led organizations gave me the basic project management skills I needed to thrive in this industry. Throughout my time at NWU, I also learned two foreign languages and studied abroad in two French-speaking countries.
These experiences were made possible by scholarships like the one I received from the Cooper Foundation, and were what equipped me to continue my education, securing a Masters’ program abroad, and thrive in my career in the International Development space today.”
In 2023, Brenda received the Young Humanitarian Award from Nebraska Wesleyan University to recognize her achievements.
"If I hadn’t had this scholarship, I would not be at Midland University. It would have been too much for me to pay. The Cooper scholarship helped bridge that gap between loans and what I owed."
Charlie faced a lot of adversity in his senior year at Norfolk High School. He had lettered twice in varsity football but tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Shortly after, his father was diagnosed with colon cancer. He worked hard to get back in shape to accept a football scholarship from Midland, but ultimately his injuries forced him to stop playing which eliminated his scholarship. After losing the football scholarship, Charlie relied on his Cooper Scholarship to support him through his final years of college.
Charlie graduated from Midland University in 2016 with his Bachelor of Science. In 2021, he graduated from Meharry Medical College with a Doctor of Medicine. In 2023 he became a Resident at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation with completion in 2025.
“My time at Midland helped me foster my desire to pursue medicine. From the moment that I voiced a desire to go into medicine, the professors in the biology department provided me with the utmost support and understanding. They pushed me to reach my full potential and always believed in me. I am still frequently in contact with them to this day.”